- Photo: Bill Kaufman
A woodpecker’s head endures deceleration at 1,000 times the force of gravity with each strike and can drum 8 – 12,000 times a day.
Sabino Canyon’s smallest woodpecker is the Ladder-backed. They are fairly common year round and easily distinguishable from the other more familiar local woodpecker, the brash Gila, even though both species have a black and white barred back.
The Ladder-backed head has black and white stripes and the males have a red head top while the Gila has an all-tan head (red dot on top on males). A Ladder-backed is about 7.25 inches long, a Gila 25 percent larger. Like all woodpeckers, Ladder-backed are specially equipped to cling to and hammer a vertical surface with their heads. The entire body of the woodpecker powers the battering of its chisel-like beak. Stiff tail feathers supported by powerful muscles brace them while zygodactyl feet (two toes facing forward and two backward) grip solidly.
Researchers calculated a woodpecker’s head endures deceleration at 1,000 times the force of gravity with each strike and can drum 8 – 12,000 times a day.
Sound like a pounding headache? Helmet designers study woodpecker skull shock absorption to learn how to prevent human brain concussions. Features contributing to brain protection include a skull that is reinforced in some places and spongy in others, and a bill in which the upper and lower halves are of unequal length.
Ladder-backed are territorial, monogamous and forage as pairs through mesquites, brush and yuccas calling back and forth with a sharp “pweek!” They excavate insects or just snatch them up with a long, barbed, sticky tongue.
Nesting in larger trees, in this case a velvet ash, Ladder-backed woodpeckers chisel out a cavity with an entry barely wide enough for an adult so that no larger uninvited guests can slip in. Ladder-backed males have a larger beak and do most of the nest excavation. The female lays 3-4 eggs, which both sexes take turns incubating. In 13 days naked, blind chicks hatch and both father and mother feed them.
This Photograph was taken in April 2012 in Sabino Canyon.